What Is Shoulder Navigation — and Who Can Benefit from It?

Think of the last time you used your shoulder joint. Were you driving your car? Picking up a box? Reaching for the highest shelf in your pantry? There are a number of reasons you use your shoulder every day — all of which take a toll on that joint.

You don’t realize how much you use your shoulder, until it becomes painful and worn down. Even daily tasks — like doing the dishes, walking your dog, and even getting dressed — become difficult.

Sometimes, medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to relieve your pain. You may need a total shoulder replacement.

A total shoulder replacement involves replacing your shoulder joint. This surgery, though less common than knee or hip replacements, is just as successful at relieving your pain and getting you back to your everyday life.

This surgery, which was first performed in the U.S. in the 1950s, can now be done using an advanced technology called shoulder navigation.

Dr. Jacob Deister, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with Cotton O’Neil Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, discusses shoulder navigation, which he says is the latest advancement in technology when it comes to shoulder surgery.

But First, a Breakdown of Your Shoulder Joint

Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, which is exactly what it sounds like — a ball that fits into a socket. There are three bones that make up your shoulder joint: the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collar bone (clavicle). The ball at the top of your arm bone goes into a small socket in your shoulder blade, forming your shoulder joint.

That’s also where a very important part of your shoulder joint is located: the cartilage. This smooth, durable tissue allows your shoulder to move easily as you use your shoulder throughout the day.

Over time, your cartilage can wear down, leading the bones to grind together. That’s called osteoarthritis. As you know, it can be painful. According to Dr. Deister, osteoarthritis is the most common ailment that will put enough wear and tear on your shoulder to require total shoulder replacement.

    5 Fast Facts About Osteoarthritis and Your Shoulder

  1. Arthritis is the most common cause of disability among adults in the U.S.
  2. Over 50 million Americans have arthritis.
  3. There is no cure for arthritis — only treatment options, such as surgery.
  4. Osteoarthritis (when the cartilage wears down over time or is injured) is the most common kind of arthritis in the shoulder.
  5. About 53,000 Americans have shoulder replacement surgery every year.

Dr. Deister answers your questions about shoulder navigation surgery — and what it can do for you.

1. What exactly is shoulder navigation?

Dr. Deister: Shoulder navigation is a type of surgery that allows the surgeon to see the shoulder anatomy more clearly during surgery. This allows for more consistent and accurate implant placement. This may reduce your chances of experiencing more pain, mobility problems, or needing revision surgery.

It’s similar to a navigation device in your car. This technology — called ExactechGPS — provides a visual map of your joint on a computer screen. This allows surgeons to plan the surgery beforehand through virtual simulation using an exact 3-D model of the patient’s shoulder, making adjustments as needed. This helps the surgeon make sure the new joint is positioned and aligned exactly how you need it.

2. What is shoulder navigation used for?

Dr. Deister: It’s used to resolve shoulder pain, usually from osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions that causes wear and tear to your joint cartilage in your shoulder. It develops after constant motion and pressure on the joints — even if your shoulder is otherwise healthy. This results in severe pain, false paralysis, and muscle weakness.

Our shoulder navigation technology can be used to give osteoarthritis patients and others who have severe pain a total shoulder replacement. After mapping out your shoulder using shoulder navigation technology, your entire shoulder joint is replaced with a highly polished metal ball attached to a stem (similar to the ball at the top of your arm bone) and a plastic socket.

Shoulder navigation can be used for the first total shoulder replacement or for follow-up replacements — called a revision, which is pretty rare. Revision surgeries might be necessary if the shoulder replacement becomes worn down, loosened, or dislocated.

3. What makes shoulder navigation different than regular shoulder surgery?

Dr. Deister: Shoulder navigation uses an advanced technology that allows the surgeon to see everything inside your shoulder before your actual surgery. This means that there are fewer surprises — and fewer complications.

During the surgery itself, this technology allows the surgeon to know exactly where to put the implant. Because every detail was planned beforehand according to your individual shoulder, there are fewer chances of complications, such as problems with mobility or the need to do another surgery to reposition the implant.

4. Why should someone use shoulder navigation for their shoulder replacement, and what are the risks?

Dr. Deister: With any surgery there are possible risks. It’s possible that an infection could occur in the wound or the components of the artificial shoulder. The replacement may also wear down or loosen over time. And like any surgery near a joint, nerves could be damaged.

Results are going to vary depending on the patient. Factors such as the cause of your condition, age, height, weight, and activity — those will all play a role in the risks of benefits of shoulder navigation surgery. Before your surgery, your physician will consider these risks and benefits to decide if it’s the right option for you.

Is Shoulder Navigation Right for You?

Surgery is a complex decision. Depending on your health and your expected outcomes, you and your physician can decide what’s best for you. Shoulder navigation allows your surgeon to have a more detailed view of your shoulder. This may benefit your surgery, your recovery, and your ability to use your shoulder again — without any pain.

Got questions about how shoulder navigation can benefit your shoulder replacement? Call (785) 270-8880 to set up an appointment with Cotton O’Neil Orthopedics & Sports Medicine.

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